It has been almost three years since Russia annexed the Ukrainian-governed Crimea, to the outrage of many leaders across the world. But for many who remain in the Black Sea peninsula, the thought of being returned to the Ukraine is both unthinkable and frightening.
“We are neither Russian nor Ukrainian. We are Crimean. America, the EU, everyone needs to leave Crimea alone!” Olga Borodina, 32, owner of a PR analytics firm, told Fox News from the Crimean capital of Simferopol this week. “Maybe the best scenario is to revisit this referendum in 20 years without all the emotion. Changing back now is impossible. It would be madness.”
The issue remains one of the hottest points of contention amid softening relations between the United States and Russia. President Donald Trump has stated that he expects Russia to return the “taken” land, while Moscow has defiantly vowed that it is not even an option for discussion.
The snow-dusted Simferopol is a city with an old Soviet-style charm, winding streets, antiquated infrastructure and soldiers sauntering through the streets alongside business people, college students and gypsies. Russian flags flutter from atop buildings and the streets are peppered with graffiti-scrawled murals that say “Russia is our beloved country.”
Indeed, Moscow has repeatedly insisted that the vast majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia in a 2014 referendum shortly after the troop takeover, which is described by locals as “unknown little green men” trickling in to occupy the area. However, Kiev has stood firm that the referendum was a sham conducted under coercion.